Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew this book would have an emotional wallop so I held off for a while. It's clear Ocean Vuong is drawing on his own experience in this novel, because it shares some of the sentiments and emotions I experienced in his poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

Oh how I love when a poet writes essays or novels. The language is powerful, the way some pieces are linear but others return to themes and core experiences is very moving. It starts out speaking to the violence in families, looks at language and belonging, moves to sexuality and connection (even when the other person is flawed,) all through the narration of "Little Dog" in a letter to his mama, one he doesn't believe she will ever read, so he can be honest.

I find some parallels with The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, in the sense that they both used fiction to explore their experiences leaving Vietnam and coming of age in America, but Nguyen's exploration is topical and political while Vuong explores the heart and mind. Both look at memory but the two novels are so very different.

The WaPo review by Ron Charles pointed me to the audio excerpt in SoundCloud read by the author. If your heart can take it, the audio sounds powerful, but I would have had to take even more time to listen because I find the emotional intensity a bit overwhelming. But, you know, more of that please.

I had a copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley. It came out June 4, 2019.

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Review: Arid Dreams

Arid Dreams Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the heels of reading Bright (Two Lines Press) by this same author/translator duo, I found this book of short stories that came out the same day from Feminist Press - I have to admit I was taken aback at first by how many stories featured a male character who was often obsessing over a woman, treating her like an object, or punishing her for not looking/acting like he thought she should. But there some subversion going on here where these characters are exposed for their thinking. "Kanda's Eyebrows" is probably the standout story for me in this collection, about a man who is angry that his wife has stopped wearing makeup.

While I understand the author's approach, I've probably read enough women filtered through men for a lifetime (even if in this case it is women through men through a woman) and I'd prefer to hear from the women in their own lives without the men as the filter or focus. The author seems to be trying to point out the difficulty when men believe they have a right to that control, and how quickly situations devolve. True, and yet.

I want to thank Two Lines Press for pointing me to this article by the translator of both Arid Dreams and Bright, addressing what Thai feminism looks like, and understanding how the author is seen and sees herself in relation to it. It really helped me understand the stories from a more Thai perspective.

Oh hey this counts for the Reading Envy Summer Challenge for "something translated." I found it in Hoopla.

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Reading Envy 157: Joint Readalong - Gone with the Wind with the Book Cougars

Jenny received Chris Wolak and Emily Fine (known as The Book Cougars) at the Reading Envy Pub for mint juleps and a discussion of Gone with the Wind, a book many of us have been reading along in May and June.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 157: Reading Envy Joint Readalong: Gone with the Wind, with the Book Cougars

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Book discussed:

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Other mentions:

Reading Envy Goodreads Group - Gone with the Wind discussion
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel (documentary)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
O Pioneers by Willa Cather
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Carol Burnett Show: "Went with the Wind" 
Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather (upcoming readalong over on Book Cougars!)

Book Cougars Goodreads Group - Sapphira and the Slave Girl discussion

Related Episodes:

Episode 085 - An Acquired Taste with Thomas Otto
Episode 090 - Reading Envy Readalong: East of Eden with Ellie and Jeff
Episode 099 - Readalong: The Secret History
Episode 118 - Reading Envy Readalong: To the Bright Edge of the World
Episode 137 - Reading Envy Readalong: The Golden Notebook

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Book Cougars website/podcast
Book Cougars are @bookcougars in Instagram

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Review: The Ash Family

The Ash Family The Ash Family by Molly Dektar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Berie is supposed to be heading to college but gets sidetracked by a cultish commune in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Asheville. I read this for the setting since I live an hour south of Asheville and have driven around tiny mountain towns with lots of nooks and crannies, even stumbled on what looked like a commune outside Gerton at one point. There are a lot of culty tropes here - the powerful man who breaks the rules others have to follow, people who seem to know secrets that are never revealed, people who disappear, hard labor and hunger used as control. It's a bit of a twist because the core members take environmental "action" that end up being quite more than peaceful protests, creating a somewhat ominous backdrop to Berie/Harmony's understanding of what it is all about.

What I love about this book, and what to me sets it apart from other cult/commune novels, is how the author captures the internal emotional turmoil of someone who is being brainwashed. It's astounding and unnerving and kept me reading to the end.

This came out April 9 and I had a copy from the publisher through netgalley.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Reading Envy 156: Introvert Intentions with Scott

Jenny and Scott chat books they've read and liked lately, from travelogues to medical/cultural miscommunication, from introvert tales to science fiction short stories that are really more about philosophy than anything else. You'll have to excuse them as they nerd out over journaling and planners for a while (and Jenny deleted half that conversation, so you don't even know!)

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 156: Introvert Intentions with Scott

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
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Books discussed:

Exhalation by Ted Chiang
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Other mentions:

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Game of Thrones (tv show)
Arrival (film)
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Gardner Dezois
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
This is Paradise by Kristiana Khakauwila
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Chronicles of a Radical Hag by Lorna Landvik

Related Episodes:

Episode 004 - Home, Frightening and Banned with guest Karen Acosta
Episode 014 - Flannery O'Connor with Zombies with Jason and Scott
Episode 052 - The Man with the Eyebrows with Philip and Scott
Episode 058 - Wishing for a Sequel with Scott
Episode 071 - Bad Priest, Good Priest, No Priest with Scott
Episode 082 - Reading Envy Envy with Scott
Episode 109 - Stuxnet Pancakes with Scott Danielson

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Scott on A Good Story is Hard to Find (podcast)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Books Read May 2019: 118-133

Pictured: 5 star reads, and yes that's ironic. Or fitting.

This month was a strange reading month, where I DNF'd 6 books that I'd had over my head (most of them ARCs, one library book) and stalling my reading in other ways for too long. And even some of the books I finished were disappointing, lackluster at times. I only read 16 total, but the two I gave five stars were books I read slowly along with people. Hmm, there may be something to that

118. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
119. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
120. Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap **** (personal copy; my review)
121. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker **** (library copy; my review)
122. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid **** (personal copy audiobook; my review)
123. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson *** (library copy; my review)
124. Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
125. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel ** (RB Digital audiobook (library); my review)
126. Naamah by Sarah Blake *** (library copy; my review)
127. Shut Up, You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
128. Chronicles of a Radical Hag by Lorna Landvik *** (library copy; my review)
129. What My Mother and I Don't Talk About edited by Michelle Filgate **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
130. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo ***** (library copy; my review)
131. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell ***** (personal copy; my review)
132. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
133. Biloxi by Mary Miller *** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)

Books read: 16
DNF (not included in this list): 6

Print: 7
eBook: 7
Audio: 2

Personal copy: 3
Library copy: 6
Review copy: 7

Asia 2019 project: 1
Readalong or group reads: 2
Tournament of Books Summer Camp: 1

Review: Biloxi

Biloxi Biloxi by Mary Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Biloxi is about 62 year old Louis, who is trying to figure out how to live after his wife left, his father died, and he "retires" from his job.

Louis reminds me of Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces) if suddenly left to his own devices as an older man, but not in a funny way. He doesn't really know who he is without his roles with other people, he doesn't know how to take care of himself (but then gets a dog,) and he does a lot of things out habit that he doesn't even enjoy (watching Fox News seems to be one of these things.) This is probably a pretty realistic depiction of aging these days.

I would have liked the perspectives of the other characters because they are obviously seeing that he needs looking after. I didn't find it to feel particularly southern the way it is described, maybe just not big city.

I'm trying to catch up on my eARC backlog. This came out May 21 from LiveRight.

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